TEMPE, Ariz. — Michigan may have the winningest football program in history, but this night belonged to Kansas State.
The Wildcats used MVP-type performances from quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett to cruise to a 31-14 victory over the Wolverines on Saturday night in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.
It was K-State’s first bowl victory since the 2002 Holiday Bowl, snapping a streak of five straight losses — four straight under coach Bill Snyder.
Michigan had no answer for the Waters-to-Lockett combination all night. The junior quarterback finished 21-of-26 passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns — all three scores going to Lockett from 6, 29 and 8 yards out to stake the Wildcats to a 21-6 halftime lead.
“When you have a special player like Tyler, anytime you get a route, he’s one-on-one, I’m looking for him,” said Waters, who also rushed 12 times for 42 yards. “I think he’s going to get it. He knows he’s going get it. I have that confidence in him. He’s such a special player.”
Lockett — the Offensive Player of the Game — finished with 10 receptions for 116 yards — the third game this season he’s scored at least three touchdowns. The All-Big 12 receiver tied the K-State bowl record with Darnell McDonald who caught three TD passes in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl — also at Sun Devil Stadium.
Waters and Lockett put the Wildcats on the board first when they hooked up for a 6-yard touchdown on K-State’s first possession of the game, capping a 14-play, 75-yard drive. It was the first of three straight touchdowns on consecutive possessions for the Wildcats (8-5), who won six of their last seven games to end the season.
“That’s one of the things, and each of these young guys will tell you, the very first thing we got into was about how we started,” Snyder said. “You look at the last two bowl games and we started off down 17-0 in one of them, down 20-0 in another one of them.
“That was the emphasis — being able to start better.”
K-State converted on a pair of key third downs to get the ball into the end zone. The first came on third-and-10 when Waters scrambled to his right and darted 21 yards to get a first down at the Michigan 23. K-State running back John Hubert then came through on second down when the got free for a 15-yard rush to set up first-and-goal from the 8. Waters then sidestepped a blitz up the middle to hit Lockett in the far left side of the end zone for the score.
Michigan (7-6) also scored on its first possession — a 22-yard field goal by Matt Wile with 3:32 to play in the first quarter. He had two field goals in the first half, later adding a 26-yarder in the second quarter.
K-State made it 14-3 on a great throw and catch by Waters and Lockett to score from 29 yards out with 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Hubert carried the ball twice on the five-play drive — going over 1,000 rushing yards on the season on a 4-yard carry. He finished with 80 yards on 16 carries. Lockett then caught a 6-yard pass to set up first-and-10 from the 29.
One play later, Waters delivered a perfect fade pass to the front left corner of the end zone where Lockett got both feet down for the 29-yard score. It was the first time in school history that K-State had scored double figures in the first quarter of a bowl game.
K-State — which had 420 yards of total offense — extended its lead to 21-6 following Wile’s second field goal of the night when Waters again connected with Lockett from 8 yards out with 4:30 to go in the second quarter.
Ian Patterson, who was playing for the injured Jack Cantele, gave the Wildcats a 24-6 lead with a 22-yard field goal with 8:09 remaining in the game. The freshman kicker also missed a 40-yard attempt in the third quarter. K-State made it 31-6 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Hubert with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter, set up by a 51-yard interception return by Dante Barnett. With a team-high eight tackles and his interception to seal the win, Barnett was named the Defensive Player of the Game.
Defensively, the Wildcats couldn’t have been much better against Michigan, holding the Wolverines to 261 yards of total offense. K-State forced Michigan into four straight punts and an interception to the start the second half.
Wolverines’ freshman quarterback Shane Morris, making the first start of his career, completed 24 of 38 passes for 196 yards — including that one interception. But the Wildcats’ best work on defense came against the run, holding Michigan to just 65 rushing yards on 15 carries.
“It’s just a credit to our coaches who do a tremendous job in making the right calls, putting us in position, particularly (defensive coordinator Tom) Hayes,” K-State defensive lineman Ryan Mueller said. “He just does a great job with us.”
Michigan’s only touchdown of the night came on a 3-yard run by Fitzgerald Toussaint with 1:15 remaining in the game, following by a successful 2-point conversion.
The 53,284 in attendance marked the third-largest crowd in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl history.